Turkey’s soft-power influence in the Gulf

There are two foods in this world that have a special place in most of our hearts, ice-cream and Nutella. And there is a country that provides those two, Turkey. Other than their mouthwatering Turkish ice-cream, Turkey also produces 80 percent of hazelnut in the world, which is the primary ingredient for Nutella. (FOA United Nations 2015) However, there is more to Turkey than its ice-cream and hazelnut production.

     Going back in history we see that the Middle East shares a very long and complex relation with the Turks, and this connection records all the way back in 1517 after the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate. Turkish Ottoman’s “hard-power” controlled a large portion of the Hijaz region (now Saudi Arabia) all the way to Baghdad and Arabian Gulf cities including modern day Kuwait and Bahrain. However, that control ended after World War I in 1918 where the Arabs revolted against Ottoman rule and declared their independence. Ever since, Turkish political and economic influence in the region had been deteriorating. However, until recently a new form of Turkish influence has given way, and that’s Turkish soft-power.

     According to the prominent political scientist Joseph Nye, soft-power is when a state’s culture, values, or lifestyle appeal and attracts another state thus influencing their social, cultural, or economic decisions. (Nye 2004) Whether it’s through soap operas or tourism, Turkish soft-power has penetrated many Middle Eastern societies, far more effective than the 500 years of political Ottoman dominance in the region. Amongst the many things influenced by Turkish culture in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, I will only mention economic investment, tourism, ideals, and cuisine.

     Trade between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to reach $15 billion USD by the end of 2015. (The Gulf Today 2014) Although I’m sure my constant demand for doner kebab and Turkish ice-cream may have added a few million USD to the trade, steel, gold, oil, and machinery are one of the highest trade goods between the two states. (Embassy of the UAE 2015) When trade between two states is initiated and stable, tourism, labor, and cultural diversity starts to emerge.

     If you have ever been to Turkey you would know how beautiful the country is. From the historic magnificence of Istanbul, to the subtle waters of Bodrum, Turkey is truly a spectacular country to visit. According to Al Arabia News, UAE tourists to Turkey increased by 50 percent between 2012 and 2013. (Al Arabiya News 2014) Including myself, in 2014 more than 210,000 GCC tourists chose Turkey as their holiday destination. (Emirates 24/7 2014) According to Mustafa Ozdemir, the Cultural & Information Attaché to the Turkish Consulate in Dubai “The GCC currently contributes 5 percent of Turkey’s tourism revenue, with Kuwait as the highest contributor, followed by the UAE” (The Content Factory 2014) If anything, this proves how much other people like myself love, not only the spectacular beauty of Turkey, but also its rich and diverse culture.

     Although you can only experience a culture when living in that society, the advantage of Turkish soft-power has provided the region with the ability to witness Turkish culture even when living in the UAE. This can be achieved through utilizing media and implementing Turkish ideals into the hearts and minds of viewers. There came a time in UAE where everyone was obsessed with the Turkish soap opera “Noor”. According to Oxford Business Group the 2008 Turkish soap opera “Noor” attracted over 85 million viewers in the Middle East alone. (Oxford Business Group 2012) The soap was a mixture of western liberalism and Turkish cultural and religious traditions. If anything, the soap opera made it harder for young men like myself by setting a high standard of physical and emotional characteristics of what an ideal man should be, and there’s an actual study that proves that.

     A survey conducted by the producer, writer, and actor Eugene Lee Yang defined the ideal man’s standard of beauty around the world, including that of the Middle East. It was fascinating to find that the “ideal” beauty standard for a Middle Eastern man is that of what you will find in a Turkish soap opera. (Yang 2015) Well groomed, fashionable, sensitive, and romantic men with little or no chest hair.

     Remember, as this increasingly proactive Turkish soft-power is introduced into many GCC countries, it is important that we keep a perspective of social diversity and tolerance among one another. There’s a fine line between government and people, and whatever governments do may not represent the people, and vice versa. It is in the interest of both Arab and Turkish societies that we entwine and work together for the purpose of a greater and stronger Middle East. If you haven’t visited Turkey yet, do so. Trust me you won’t regret supporting the Ice-cream and Nutella economy.

Featured image by: bx


  • Al Arabiya News. 2014. Turkey woos UAE tourists as visitors surge by 50 percent . May 14. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/life-style/travel-and-tourism/2014/05/05/Turkey-woos-UAE-tourists-as-visitors-surge-by-50-percent.html.
  • Cernigoi, Adrienne. 2014. Turkish delight: UAE trade growth. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://vision.ae/articles/turkish_delight_more_to_offer.
  • Embassy of the UAE. 2015. United Arab Emirates-Turkey: Bilateral Relations. Accessed July 31, 2015. http://www.uae-embassy.ae/Embassies/tr/Content/4518.
  • Emirates 24/7. 2014. GCC tourists to Turkey surge 38%. December 11. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.emirates247.com/business/gcc-tourists-to-turkey-surge-38-2014-12-11-1.573025.
  • FOA United Nations. 2015. Hazelnut production. Accessed July 2015. http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x4484e/x4484e03.htm.
  • Nye, Jospeh. 2004. Soft Power: The Means To Success In World Politics. Public Affairs.
  • Oxford Business Group. 2012. Soap power: The sweeping success of Turkish television series. June 20. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.oxfordbusinessgroup.com/overview/soap-power-sweeping-success-turkish-television-series.
  • The Content Factory. 2014. UAE Tourists to Turkey Increase by 50%. May 4. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.tcf-me.com/client_portal/turkey-tourism/content_items/uae-tourists-to-turkey-increase-by-50.
  • The Gulf Today. 2014. UAE to enhance trade ties with Turkey . October 12. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://gulftoday.ae/portal/ca8c2ae8-cf73-43b2-8c6b-da3638453221.aspx.
  • Yang, Eugene Lee. 2015. Men’s Standards Of Beauty Around The World. March 19. Accessed July 30, 2015. http://www.buzzfeed.com/eugeneyang/mens-standards-of-beauty-around-the-world#.sn868rVaQ.


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